Havas: The human news aggregator

Charles-Louis Havas and the Agence Havas

For those who ever wondered how people got news briefs before the modern age, meet Charles-Louis Havas (1783-1858), the founder of what today is known as Agence France-Presse (AFP) Reuters. The wonderful collection of 101 lithographed news reports from 1845-1848 is a terrific example of how international news was shared before modern technology made it easy.

Based on what we found on the internet, Charles-Louis Havas was born in 1783 and after a stint in finance, he founded, in 1825, a news translation business, Bureau Havas, to service the French papers. The concept in the beginning was quite simple. He and his wife, speaking about a half dozen languages between them, could read and translate various international newspapers. His business grew through hard work, acquisition, and government relationships. Havas eventually began to hire international reporters to write original pieces, in addition to the continued translation services, for what became in 1835 the Agence Havas (one of these reporters was Paul Julius Reuter, future founder of Reuters).

Havas news bulletin from 1847 the Bulletin de l'Etranger

An example of what Agence Havas produced: an international news bulletin from 1847.  PRINT COLL. 29

Not only did Havas develop this translation/aggregation model, he innovated news distribution through a subscription formula (selling his news to small papers throughout France). Whether he did well solely due to his wits, guts, and sweat or whether his government relationships allowed him to dominate the distribution of news, he certainly became a notorious figure. Balzac openly accused Havas of having a monopoly in 1840:

“Le public peut croire qu’il existe plusieurs journaux, mail il n’y a en définitive, qu’un seul journal … Monsiuer Havas.”  (The public may believe that there exists a free press, but in reality, there is only one press, Mr. Havas.)

Havas was also different in regard to his interest in advertising – of his own paper but also as a revenue stream. He managed to involve his business in a new advertising model, devoting an entire staff to advertising, paving the way for the merger with Société Générale des Annonces soon after his death.  By that point, the Havas papers were as much about advertising as they were about news, if not more.

Considering the “technology” at the time, which included pigeons, it’s remarkable anyone could develop a business at all. Pigeons were heavily used to share stock market information between London, Brussels and Paris, but more substantial political and cultural news demanded a different carrier. While the railroad and telegraph revolutionized how information was transmitted, it’s still amazing to me that some of the main drivers of Havas’s success are timeless: a strong relationship with the government and an understanding of how to use advertising as an income source.

Who wants to see the photos from my trip?

Muffle that groan! The Penn Libraries acquired several dozen photograph albums, many of which I had the luck to process, and am happy to say beat hands down many of the slideshows I have been subjected to. The common thread in these albums is India from the late 1800’s to the second World War, most often created by military servicemen and women from Great Britain or the United States, but also by some missionaries and other travelers.

Each album gave a window into the specific experiences of ordinary individuals in a foreign and exotic country. It was amusing to see how well-chronicled tourist attractions were. Almost every album contained the obligatory shot of the Taj Mahal and other local sights. More adventurous albums contained photos of religious rituals like the cremation of human remains on ghats, or the everyday hard work of earning a living as best as possible. Only a few of these visitors were compelled to capture the extreme poverty and afflictions of the poorest Indians.

Some albums solely focused on the military installation or company around that individual and others were clearly photos taken on leave, enjoying vacation trips to Bombay or the mountains. The sporting activities, from polo in private clubs to military “Tug-of-War” teams to hunting expeditions, also appear regularly.

While no one album stood out particularly to me, the story that the collective body of these albums told was a wonderful opportunity to glimpse life in colonial India spanning decades before the Partition, as told by men and women, poor and rich, religious or not, military and civilian.

India tug of war

The “Tug of War” team from the 2nd highlanders Light Infantry album (1896), Ms. Coll. 1160

I couldn’t help but wonder how it would compare to a trip I would take today. Has photography changed? Has social media impacted what we photograph? #tajmahal has over 580,000 posts on Instagram – and of course includes selfies, something not found anywhere in the albums. You can’t count the number of hashtags on Facebook, but there seems to be an endless supply of Taj Mahal photos there too. I’m sure I’d be guilty of adding mine…

The Literary Censorship Files of the E. Sculley Bradley papers

Professor Back 'Lonigan' Books

Professor Sculley Bradley was the star witness for several important literary censorship trials in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

The E. Sculley Bradley papers are now processed and available for research. Sculley Bradley was a University of Pennsylvania English professor from 1926-1967 and vice provost of undergraduate education from 1956-1963. His papers include his personal and professional correspondence, 1923-1962, material from several literary censorship cases he testified for, corrected drafts of his manuscript for the Variorum edition of Leaves of Grass, ephemera and graphics associated with Walt Whitman, and a small amount of materials on other authors. His censorship files are some of the more interesting materials in the collection.

Material for Testimony

Bradley’s preparation was meticulous as shown by the first page of a nine page outline for one book defended in Youngstown, Ohio in 1953.

From 1948 through 1966 Sculley Bradley was involved in a series of literary censorship trials, acting as a witness on the side of the authors, publishers, and/or booksellers. His first case involved the seizure of over 2,000 books confiscated from 50 different bookstores, department stores, and newsstands in Philadelphia, PA in 1948. Among the books seized were James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan and A World I Never Made; Sanctuary and The Wild Palms by William Faulkner; God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell; Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr.; and Harold Robbins’ Never Love a Stranger. The book raids were undertaken by the Philadelphia police vice squad upon complaints of “ministers, school authorities, and others.”

Expense Account, Sculley Bradley

Bradley’s record keeping of expenses associated with his testimony was also meticulous!

Bradley was recruited to serve as an expert witness in this case and in several subsequent ones. In the files for these censorship cases, Bradley has collected correspondence concerning his testimony, newspaper and magazine clippings, receipts for his consultative charges, and in some cases copies of legal briefs. In preparation for giving his testimony, Bradley worked diligently. If he did not already have a copy of the book in question, the publishers would send him one. He read it (usually not for the first time) and wrote up detailed notes on the characters, plot, purpose, and context of each book so that he would be prepared to discuss it, and defend it, in court.

Direct Examination of Dr. Sculley Bradley

Testimony of Bradley defending Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” in a Philadelphia courtroom in 1962.

The Philadelphia seizures actually led to more than one courtroom. A Pennsylvania State suit against five of the booksellers went to the Court of Quarter Sessions, Philadelphia, while a Federal case in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was lodged by publisher Vanguard Press and author James T. Farrell against the Philadelphia police. Sculley Bradley testified in both trials. It isn’t completely clear how the Federal case turned out, but the State case was a victory for the booksellers. Judge Curtis Bok found that the books were not obscene and dismissed the charges against the booksellers. He wrote a thorough opinion on the matter, finalizing with “I hold that the books before me are not sexually impure and pornographic, and are therefore not obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent, or disgusting.” Judge Bok’s opinion was such a hit with booksellers, that the publisher Knopf had it typeset on fine paper in a clothbound limited edition of 500 copies printed by Grabhorn Press in San Francisco!

Commonwealth v. Gordon, et al.

Judge Curtis Bok’s decision striking the Pennsylvania statute under which five booksellers were charged with peddling obscene material, 1948.

In addition to the Philadelphia cases, other censorship cases arose in Fall River, MA (focusing on the book Duke, by Hal Ellison), Detroit, MI (The Devil Rides Out, by John H. Griffin), Youngstown, OH (Down All Your Streets, by Leonard Bishop), and additional cases brought in Philadelphia, PA as well as several other cities (for The Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller). Bradley also signed on to an amicus curiae brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in defense of Ralph Ginzburg, who published the erotic journal Eros and other works which were confiscated in the mail in 1962. Some of the cases Bradley was involved in made their way to the United States Supreme Court.